- Crybullies. Roger Kimball coined the term to describe the students who both weep when speaking about how they feel “unsafe” and hound university leaders out of their jobs. As Kimball reports in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, when Amy Wax (a regular in our pages) spoke about affirmative action at the Yale Political Union, several protesting students cried during her speech. The grownups at Yale have expressed great sorrow, issuing a number of apologies for failing to make Yale a “safe place” for all students. Meanwhile, these vulnerable students form flash mobs targeting faculty who have in some way been deemed insufficiently attuned to their identity needs. Demands are issued, including calls for the dismissal of offenders. Crybullies. That’s exactly right.
- If we ever doubted, now we know for sure. At big state universities, football rules. Protests about racism and other matters had been simmering for weeks at the University of Missouri. Then twenty black football players announced their intention to boycott, with their coach’s support. It was game over for university president Timothy Wolfe and his lieutenant, R. Bowen Loftin, chancellor of the main Mizzou campus.
- Wolfe was already at risk because he’s a nonacademic businessman appointed to bring fiscal discipline to the University of Missouri system, hardly a popular project. He went about his cost-cutting without much in the way of political savoir faire. An experienced academic administrator knows that one makes strategic appointments to special ad hoc committees that engage in a long process that results in recommendations that affirm decisions already made. Faculty especially need to feel as though they are being consulted. Powerful constituencies at the university need to be bought off. Having failed to massage faculty and other university constituencies, Wolfe had no allies when the crisis came.
And then there’s Princeton. The administration sought to preempt student protests by fiddling with the title for faculty who preside over the residential colleges. A friend wrote:
- I’ve proposed an endowment tax on outsized university endowments (“The Right Tax to Support Education”). The concentration of wealth in the top 25 endowments is quite striking. My idea is to use proceeds from this tax to fund free community-college education. Why haven’t students at Yale and other rich schools taken up my idea? Are they blind to the needs of the non-elite?
- In the same spirit of blunting the power of the One Percent, I’d like to institute a tax on outsized foundations. These monstrous entities give tremendous culture-shaping and policymaking power to just a few super-wealthy people and their handpicked lieutenants. Foundations with assets of more than $5 billion should have the amount above $5 billion taxed at 5 percent per year. The proceeds should be directed toward historically black colleges, institutions with noble moral legacies but not much in the way of financial resources.
- Friends think these proposals are jokes designed to mock tax-happy progressives. They’re not. I’m perfectly serious. Both taxes would do a great good for higher education, which is perverted by the dominance of the richest institutions. Both would stymie the power of the One Percent to reshape cultural norms to serve their own interests. A back-of-the-envelope estimate puts revenue at $80–90 billion over ten years. That’s as much as President Obama asked for when he sought to establish free community-college education. However it’s used, the point is to give the currently underfunded, non-elite educational and cultural institutions the resources they need to have a say in the future of our culture.
- I have a further reason to support these kinds of taxes. I’ve come to the conclusion that our elite-dominated educational system is morally bankrupt. It’s overwhelmingly hostile to convictions that animate this magazine. Its wealth (which buys power) needs to be redistributed, which is what well-targeted taxation can do. The same is true for the funding priorities of almost all the gigantic foundations in the United States. (Take a look at the list of the twenty-five largest.)
- Mike McManus of Marriage Savers made this useful intervention into a debate about marriage laws in Michigan:
Michigan has one of the worst laws in America, with zero waiting period for divorce—that pushes people to divorce. No wonder Michigan’s divorce rate is 60 percent. America’s divorce rate is triple that of Britain or France,with 23 percent divorcing here after five years vs. only 8 percent in Britain or France. Why? If a British wife wants a divorce, but her husband does not, the couple has to wait five years for the divorce, and six years in France. Five or six years allows a lot of time for couples to reconcile. By contrast, half of our states, including Michigan, have a zerowaiting period—which gives no time for reconciliation. This is a foolish law that must be changed to revive marriage in Michigan.
I proposed that Michigan consider three reforms of No Fault, which might make sense in other nations: Require a minimum of a one-year delay before any divorce is granted, and two years if it is contested, or if the couple has children. Pennsylvania and Illinois have a two-year minimum for contested divorces and two of America’s lowest divorce rates. Require that couples with children take a course on the impact of divorce on kids before divorce papers can be filed. Hopefully, many would decide to save their marriage, rather than destroy it, often shattering their children. Require that the couple take classes to improve their skills of communication and conflict resolution during the year’s delay. The major reason couples divorce is that they do not know how to resolve their differences amicably. Fortunately, that can be taught in a few hours.
Too often we take a defeatist attitude toward our legal regime of easy divorce. Mike McManus is right. The reforms he suggests make sense. We may not be able to go back to 1955, but there’s no reason we need to remain stuck in 1975.
- In 2008, the Hindu American Foundation launched a campaign: “As the multi-billion dollar yoga industry continues to grow with studios becoming as prevalent as Starbucks and $120 yoga pants, the mass commercialization of this ancient practice, rooted in Hindu thought, has become concerning. With proliferation of new forms of ‘yoga,’ the underlying meaning, philosophy, and purpose of yoga are being lost. Take Back Yoga aims to bring to light yoga as a life-long practice dedicated to achieving moksha, or liberation/union with God.” As someone who worries about keeping Christ in Christmas, my Hindu brothers and sisters have my sympathy.
- I’ll admit that I’ve given up on keeping the holy in Halloween. What used to be an evening for kids has become a major drinking holiday for adults, and once that happens it seems there’s no turning back.
- Exhibit A: St. Patrick’s Day. Have you heard the revised version of the breastplate of St. Patrick? “Beer be with me, beer within me, beer behind me, beer before me, beer beside me, beer to win me, beer to comfort and restore me, beer beneath me, beer above me, beer in quiet, beer in danger, beer in the hearts of all that love me, beer in the mouth of friend and stranger.”
- And then there’s Marc Benioff, billionaire tech mogul and cofounder of Salesforce. Buddhist monks stay at his San Francisco house and lead mindfulness sessions for Salesforce employees. The company’s San Francisco headquarters features quiet mindfulness zones, and a recent customer conference featured mindfulness speakers.
- Benioff was the CEO who led the charge against Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act last spring, threatening to cancel all Salesforce programs that required his employees to travel to Indiana. Apparently, he’s in favor of the sponsorship of religion by billionaire CEOs but not of its free exercise by ordinary citizens.
- If you don’t know about St. Michael’s Abbey, the Norbertine Monastery in Southern California, you should. It has a reputation for orthodox vitality and a steady flow of new vocations. I mention St. Michael’s because First Things writer Michael Hannon (of “Against Heterosexuality” fame), now Urban Hannon, has created a website for his brethren. Take a look: stmichaelsabbey.com. And if you’re in Orange County, California, it’s well worth a visit.
- Les Murray’s new book of poems is out. New Selected Poems, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, features Murray’s selection from his vast body of work, including poems published in our pages. It’s a rich trove of literary treasures. The collection includes Murray’s brief homage to St. Vincent de Paul, his sometime haberdasher. That saint is also Les Murray’s beneficent pen patron. It’s a volume worth having.
- Our first annual poetry reading was held on Sunday, October 25, made possible by a special donation. The event took place at Central Presbyterian Church here in Manhattan. Christian Wiman and Danielle Chapman read from their work. If you go to firstthings.com and click on the media section of our website, you can view the video of the reading. Next year’s poet will be Dana Gioia.
- The twenty-eighth annual Erasmus Lecture was held the next day, Monday, October 26. It was standing room only in Lincoln Hall at the Union League Club of New York as more than five hundred people came to hear Ross Douthat. So can you, if you watch the video, also on our media page. The text of his lecture appears in this issue: “A Crisis of Conservative Catholicism.”
- On Veterans Day, Wednesday, November 11, Yuval Levin delivered First Things’s second annual Washington, D.C, lecture: “The Perils of Religious Freedom.” The video is available on our website. We’ll publish his lecture in the next issue.
- With the support of Covenant School and First Things board member Bruce Shaw and his family, on Monday, November 16, Peter Leithart delivered First Things’s second annual Dallas lecture. Again, you can watch the video of his talk, “Habit Forming: Liturgies of Education,” by visiting our media page.
- I’m pleased to announce that First Things will host an Intellectual Retreat in Los Angeles. It will take place on the UCLA campus, beginning on Friday evening, May 20, and ending midday on Sunday, May 22. As was the case for the New York Intellectual Retreat, held last August, the main focus will fall on small seminar discussions, with assigned readings distributed in advance. Evening dinners will feature First Things lecturers.
- Tom Houston of State College, Pennsylvania, would like to form a ROFTERs group. If you’re a reader of First Things (ROFTER), live in central Pennsylvania, and wish to participate in monthly discussions of articles from America’s most important journal of religion and public life, drop Tom a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- When this issue reaches you, 2015 will be drawing to a close. You already have received a letter from me asking for your support. I hope you will respond generously to my request. New York, Washington, Dallas, Los Angeles: We’re trying to do more, because more needs to be done. Your support will ensure that we have the resources necessary to put our light upon the highest lampstands.
You may have seen the news of Princeton’s courageous decision to rename the “masters” of its residential colleges as “heads” in response to the unrest at Missouri, Yale, etc. As an alumnus of the university, I wholly support this decision. Given that Princeton has mostly discarded other contingent artifacts of its historic origins in the medieval university, such as humane learning and the pursuit of truth, it is fitting that vestigial titles such as “master” are abandoned too, in favor of less fraught terms like “head.”
While this is surely a step in the right direction, I’m still troubled by the unacknowledged cephalocentrism that is presupposed in elevating certain, historically privileged body parts above others. Furthermore, although in the medieval university it may have been common and acceptable for leaders to “use their heads” when addressing matters of common concern, surely this is inappropriate in the modern university. Therefore, I propose that Princeton change heads of colleges’ titles to “asses.” Not only would this help to reclaim a historically marginalized part of the body, taking on the designation “ass of the college” would describe their role more aptly, and would reflect the way that most of us no doubt perceive their role in the college and their relationships with students and faculty fellows. I urge you to join with me in advocating for effective change that makes Princeton a more affirming community.
While We’re At It Sources: Crybullies: wsj.com, November 13, 2015. Mizzou: nytimes.com, November 9, 2015. University tax: firstthings.com, January 28, 2015. Take Back Yoga: hafsite.org, November 23, 2015. Marc Benioff: huffingtonpost.com, April 7, 2015. Against Heterosexuality: firstthings.com, March 2014. St Michael’s: stmichaelsabbey.com, November 2015. Poems: amazon.com, August 4, 2015. Videos from poetry reading, Erasmus Lecture, and Washington D.C. lecture: firstthings.com/media.